Tuesday, 29 March 2011

MALNUTRITION: Pakistan 'crop shortage' warning

24 March 2011  By M Ilyas Khan BBC News, Islamabad

Flood victims line up for food distribution by the World Food Program (WFP) at a tented camp on August 21, 2010 in Sukkur , Pakistan The WFP played an important role distributing food in Pakistan after last year's floods 
Lowering wheat prices would create food shortages in Pakistan and encourage smuggling, officials say, responding to criticism from the UN.
On Wednesday the UN's food relief agency said the government set prices too high and malnutrition was rising.
But an official at Pakistan's food ministry told the BBC farmers would simply switch to more lucrative crops if wheat prices went down.
Devastating floods across Pakistan in 2010 damaged acres of arable land.
Although crop yields in 2011 are projected to be healthy, prices are too high for an impoverished population, the director of the UN's World Food Programme told journalists on the sidelines of humanitarian meetings in Geneva on Wednesday.
"The crop outlook is not bad but the food security situation remains difficult because prices remain so high," Wolfgang Herbinger said.

Smuggling risk
Malnutrition levels in the southern province of Sindh had reached 21% to 23%, according to the WFP.
It is nearly impossible to stop smuggling across the Afghan border, which is extremely porous”
"That is well above African standards. The emergency standard is 15%," Mr Herbinger said.
But lowering prices would do little to help the situation, an official at the food and agriculture ministry, who wished to remain unnamed, said.
He also warned that much of the crop would end up in the hands of smugglers. "Low farm-gate prices lead to lower acreage of wheat crop as farmers switch to other crops and it works as an incentive for smugglers seeking international prices in the neighbourhood. "It is nearly impossible to stop smuggling across the Afghan border, which is extremely porous," he said.
So if prices are lowered, the official said, the risk is that they would eventually rise to even higher than the level they are currently set at.
In the 1990s and between 2007 and 2009 there were severe wheat shortages across Pakistan, leading to extremely high prices.
Pakistani officials also say that malnutrition in Sindh province is not a new phenomenon and is unrelated to the food supply.
"Government statistics show that food consumption has not gone down despite the doubling of food prices since 2007-08," Kaisar Bengali, advisor to Sindh's chief minister said.
A lack of public hygiene facilities and safe drinking water were more important factors in child nutrition, he said.
"These are neglected areas, and there has been hardly any development in the public health sector here in decades," Mr Bengali said.

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